In 1962, Rachel Carson provoked the modern environmental movement with her classic book, Silent Spring -- which castigated big chemical manufacturers and government regulators for allowing the rampant use of DDT and other environmental toxins that killed wild animals and triggered deadly cancers. Could we be on the verge of another Silent Spring?
That's the frightening implication of a new paper in the leading journal Science, which suggests a commonly used type of toxin, known as a "neonicotinoid pesticide", is causing severe declines of bird populations.
The toxin, which is chemically similar to nicotine, is the most widely used pesticide on Earth.
In the study, which was based in the Netherlands, the researchers showed that the insecticide so severely depressed insect numbers that local populations of 15 species of insect-eating birds declined strongly as well.
Where the pesticide was applied heavily, local bird populations declined by an average of 3.5 percent annually, a rapid fall in numbers. These declines only began in the mid-1990s, after the toxin was introduced to the Netherlands.
The nicotine-like pesticides have previously been associated with severe declines of bees -- which are vital pollinators of many agricultural crops and wild plants.
Now it appears that wherever the pesticides are used heavily, insect-eating bird populations are also declining rapidly.
Were she alive today, Rachel Carson would be aghast to think her deadly Silent Spring might be returning.